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No Go the Bogeyman: Scaring , Lulling and Making Mock
Marina Warner

No Go the Bogeyman: Scaring , Lulling and Making Mock
Marina Warner
Chatto & Windus
London 1999

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This latest book by Marina Warner is an investigation of fear, horror and terror. It is an exploration of the different histories and contexts of representations of ‘bogeymen’. Encompassing ritual festival activity such as takes place on the Mexican day of the Dead, through the engravings of William Hogarth, to modern children’s fiction, Warner links and compares the recurring symbols of madness and monsters that have always played such a major part of human cultural life. Drawing on anthropology, psychology, history and the arts, Warner teases out the secret desires behind such fears, and reveals how they recur and then disappear in different climates. Warner is also interested in humour, and how it can be used to either soothe or exacerbate fear. She raises many questions of our continuing fascination and delight with the macabre, the enjoyment that both children and adults take in this subject matter.

The scope of this book is enormous, and makes it a volume to keep and refer to, and dip in and out of at leisure. It is full of illustrations, including colour prints of Hieronymus Bosch and Goya, and photographs of events and animals. It is a book that anyone attempting any kind of research into these themes will find extremely useful. It is a also a book for anyone who secretly loves a good horror story or film, as it will provide all the academic argument and historical context for you to justify wanting to watch the ‘X-files’ or ‘Scream:5’

The book is divided into themed sections,(scaring, lulling, and making mock) and these contain chapters where a particular notion, such as cannibalism, is explored. These are extremely densely written passages, and in ‘My Father He Ate Me…’ Warner links the legend of Kronos, the Greek god who ate his children, to Roald Dahl’s BFG, and his tales of scary dreams of this very act. She looks at the way the gender of the parent who eats can affect the meaning of these tales, and the prevalence of these stories at different times. Of the ogre who eats children, she concludes that ‘his wicked folly makes plain the social and human imperative that the young must be allowed to thrive and grow’.

These passages of erudite research are interspersed with ‘reflections’, where a particular event, or series of paintings is analysed in minute detail. These reflections are compelling reading, and provide examples of the intensity of the imagery of horror and it’s different aspects. In her reflection on the Patum of Berga, a ritualised feast day celebrated in Spain, she describes the elaborate festivities, the masks and costumes and dancing, and compares this sort of ‘participatory event’ to attendance at a rock concert: ‘Coming out of such ordeals alive delivers a ‘hit’, the high of surviving, it defines the living, impervious, sovereign self, and becomes a cause for ecstatic release.’

Much of that which Warner extracts from the history of the terrifying and weird, can, she argues, be found to resonate through modern culture. The recent portrait of Myra Hindley, displayed in the Sensation exhibition was made up of a four year-old’s hand-prints and provoked much public disgust. Warner points out however that ‘in the sixteenth century, Arcimboldo pieced together a profile of Herod from the naked bodies of the holy innocents’

Warner goes on to look at many other terrors and their images, finding similarities between Medusa’s lolling tongue and that of the Irish Sheela-na-gig, presenting many different dragons and their portraits, and comparing the many representations of hell throughout the ages. From the ancient Greeks to ‘Men in Black’, it seems that there is very little that can have escaped the scope of this study. This is a rich and interesting book, that could be the starting point for many a new obsession or research project. It is an ambitious project, and one that Warner achieves with consummate skill. My only real criticism is that this hard-back edition is too bulky to read under the covers, and what better time to read it than after banishing the monsters from under your bed?

Reviewed by Rachel O’Riordan


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